Friday, December 25, 2009
And for all the many people who've gone out and bought Last Christmas (and there really appear to have been an awful lot of you!) I'd like to say thank you very much. At a particularly difficult time in my personal life, it has been very welcome to have a little bit of fairy dust in the shape of a book which I loved writing doing so well. To blow my own trumpet a little bit, thanks to all you nice people, I've been in the Heatseekers chart for six weeks ( I dropped down to no 3 this week), and made it into the top 20 pb bestseller lists for two weeks. I reached the dizzy heights of 15 last week, but have now gone back to 22, which is still fabulous. It has been very exciting and a lovely and unexpected treat. So thank very much for buying it! Fans of Hope Christmas might be pleased to know that going to see our local nativity last night, I came up with a GREAT idea for another Hope Christmas story. Well I think it was great. A fair bit of red wine has passed by me since then...
Anyway, must go and check on the turkey (current plans for the day include transporting a turkey and trimmings up the road to mil's in the wheelchair we borrowed to get her down here. It's going to be an unusual Christmas(-:), and see whether the children have started fighting yet.
A very happy Christmas to one and all!
Friday, December 18, 2009
Monday, December 14, 2009
I'd also like to congratulate my fellow RNA nominees: Sarah Duncan, Katie Flynn, Jean Fullerton, Veronica Henry, Erica James, Judith Lennox, Mary Nicholls and Nicholas Sparks, and my fellow Avon writer, Miranda Dickinson whose Fairytale of New York is quite rightly speeding up the charts.
I am under no illusions about making the short list, the competition is far too hot! However I am delighted to have been privileged to be nominated at all - a completely unexpected pleasure. Having just updated my website: http://www.juliawilliamsauthor.com/ I'd better go and update it some more...
Friday, December 11, 2009
However, if you should find yourself in the vicinity of Burway Books in Church Stretton tomorrow, I shall be there from 2pm signing copies of Last Christmas.
In the meantime am frantically doing rewrites on The Bridesmaid's Pact. (It's like getting blood out of a stone, since you ask). In order to help me with some much needed inspiration I've been listening to Razorlight's Wire to Wire. A truly fabulous song that sends chills up my spine and is the theme tune of one of my characters. So being a generous sort I thought I'd share it with you...
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
As a family this year we have had huge cause to be grateful to the NHS. Not only did I have my little A&E encounter in the summer, but I've also had checkups both for heart disease and breast cancer (both thankfully ok). On top of that no 4 has had several hospital visits, including an ultrasound, an MRI and a bone scan to check out a strange lump on her foot (nothing serious either, phew). And if that weren't enough we've had mil in casualty after her fall two months ago, and then back again a month ago when she couldn't get up one day.
From the fall it was established that mil has a blood disorder common in the elderly which means she isn't producing enough red blood cells. Our GP got her into hospital and suggested she needed a blood transfusion. It transpired that she didn't, but she has remained in hospital ever since because her mobility is variable and her blood count is still low.
The first week she was there, she was very poorly, and we feared the worst. She spent two days being assessed in a Clinical Assessment Unit, where no one seemed to know anything, and despite bil and sil's best efforts, we had only fleeting contact with doctors. Then she was moved to a surgical ward because there was no room on the medical one. There, the flow of nurses was constant, there seemed to be no consistency of care, and we all felt we were banging our heads against a brick wall, when we repeated constantly that she suffers from a benign essential tremor and her medication had been altered, that she probably had an infection because she was confused, that it was likely she would just nod and say she was fine when she wasn't. And still we found ourselves unable to get any sense out of a doctor as to what was actually wrong with her.
Eventually she moved into the medical ward, which was much better, as it had just been done up. But there you feel a slight despair about the money that gets wasted in the NHS. As she arrived on the ward, there were engineers putting the finishing touches to a new state of the art, TV/Radio and phone system - so state of the art it's being trialled first in our hospital. The room mil was on was full of the elderly and infirm. Not a single one of whom was going to get any use or show any interest in this new system. I'd rather the money was spent on better communication with the medical profession frankly.
The only person I spoke to who seemed to have a clear understanding of mil's problems, and who also took on board our concerns that her level of confusion had worsened since her stay in hospital, and was different from the confusion caused by her infections, was a wonderful young OT girl. She wrote everything down I said, but whether anyone else took notice I don't know, because it seemed everytime we spoke to a nurse they had to consult the notes, or didn't know anything about mil.
On two occasions bil was told that the consultant would be in in the morning, only for him to turn up and no consultant would arrive. Eventually, after three weeks, though we did manage to see him. He was very nice. He was very informed. He knew what the problem was, but hadn't a clue that she was confused or that had got worse. But why, did it take us so long to get hold of him? The system caters always to the patient, asking the patient what their needs are, which is obviously a good thing. But anyone who's ever spent time in hospital will know, that even if you are relatively young and compos mentis, you will be hard pressed to remember what a doctor has said to you. For an elderly confused individual it must be impossible, and it's abysmal that no one thinks to consult the relatives more. What frustrated me the most is that, having spent the best part of this year being fully conversant with mil's problems, I know what medication she is on, I can give an accurate case history of what has happened to her, and I know (as we all do) that her condition is worse then when she came into hospital. There should be a better way of using people like me as a resource.
The care mil received was perfectly fine, but the ward she's been on was a busy one and not suitable for an elderly lady who needs a lot of help to get back on her feet. So fortunately last week, she was transferred to a local community hospital, where the pace is slower, the nurses ensure she is up and dressed every morning, she's getting physio every day, and she is much calmer and more content. And praise be the lord, the first day she arrived, the sister in charge of the ward actually asked me what had happened to her, and then said the magic words, what outcome do you as a family want? Better late then never, I suppose, but it shouldn't have taken three weeks.
As always in these situations, I can't help thinking about those poor sods who don't have irritating rels like me to fight on their behalf, or the elderly and infirm who don't know how to stand up for themselves. There must be so many of those kind of people who get lost in the system. I saw an elderly man discharged from CAU, who had had a fall. He could barely walk and was clearly in a lot of pain. It didn't seem right that he was being sent home. Neither did it seem correct that another lady who I assume was suffering from cancer, and who also was clearly in great pain, was being sent home to her daughter with whom she lived. The daughter said to me in despair, do you think she looks well enough to go home? It was quite clear she wasn't.
We have a lot to be grateful for in the NHS. It is there for us in emergencies. It is free and the majority of those working in it are dedicated and caring professionals. But there is too often a huge waste of resources, and communication could be hugely improved. I know people are busy and they have a job to do, but it is all too easy to lose sight of the person, and focus on tasks that need doing, particularly when dealing with the elderly. We are lucky that mil has ended up somewhere where she can be properly looked after, particularly as swingeing cuts mean that the number of beds available in community hospitals are being severely reduced, but it shouldn't have been so hard to get her there or fight for information. The patient is entitled to be told the truth about their condition, but when they are not in a state to make informed choices, families need to know to. Because after all, we can help.
Monday, November 09, 2009
Mil comes from a little town in East Germany called Gardelegen, a beautiful mediaeval town which ended up just within the East zone after the war. Ironically, the Americans arrived there first, but Gardelegen ended up being part of the area which was given to the Russians followng the decision to split Berlin into four sectors. By then the Americans had passed on and Gardelegen was being run by the British. Mil's father was an estate manager in charge of an estate called Isenschnibbe which is about a mile outside of town .
Unfortunately, if you look both Gardelegen and Isenschibbe up the likelihood is you will find the story of a massacre which occurred on the estate in the dying days of the war. According to mil, there were several days of chaos while the Americans waited outside the town, too frightened of their own shadows to enter. During that time a trainload of slaveworkers from the factories in Nordhausen who were being shipped out by the SS (who had orders to kill them) to prevent them telling the Allies Nazi secrets, found they could go no further. They were rounded up by their SS guards, taken into a barn on the Isenschnibbe estate, locked in and the barn was burnt down. It was an horrific atrocity in which over 1000 people died. Those few that did escape were hidden by the Gardelegers, who from my understanding of the story had nothing to do with what happened and were powerless to prevent it. Mil tells me that her father had locked themselves within the walls of the estate, because everything was so lawless outside, so they were unaware of the tragedy till after it had happened. From fil, whose regiment came to Gardelegen to relieve the Americans, we have a series of horrific photographs showing the extent of the atrocity. I always had the impression from him that the Gardelegers were not accountable for it, and I'm inclined to believe it. In this country we're lucky enough not to have lived in a dictatorship. Nothing in Nazi Germany was straightforward - if you were a member of any of the professions: a lawyer, doctor, teacher, nurse you had to be a member of the Nazi Party or you couldn't work. Mil's family were not Nazis, but I don't think it is possible for us to understand the knife edge that ordinary people must have lived under, in a regime that they detested but could do nothing about.
When the Americans did move into the town, they quickly discovered what had happened (mil has always felt if they'd been more decisive and got into the town straight away it might have been prevented). They stayed for a while, and used Isenschibbe as their base. They were reguarly visited by entertainers, including, get this, Louis Armstrong. Mil still has a Christmas card he sent her dad.
I'm not sure how long the Yanks stayed before handing over to the York and Lancaster regiment, which happened to be fil's outfit, though he didn't get to meet mil till later. Mil's father built up a good working relationship with colonel in charge of the regiment. I presume this is why the colonel told mil's dad that the Russians were coming, and suggested that mil and her sister should be sent to the west. (Mil's best friend had even less time to prepare, she and her family literally had to abandon the family farm and leave all their belongings behind.). So one sunny morning in May 1945, mil and her sister set off on their bikes with a young soldier who was supposed to be looking after them. From mil's accounts he was a bit of a waste of space, and when her bike developed a puncture, she mended it not him. They arrived safely in Heidelberg where they had family and stayed for a couple of weeks. Astonishingly mil's dad was able to take a tractor to Heidelberg (which is quite a hike from Gardelegen) loaded with belongings, but he then went back to make sure the people of the estate who were under his care were ok. As a result, he along with four other key members of the town ended up in Buchenwald, where he remained for three years.
He was one of the lucky ones, in that he came home alive, but his health never recovered. The one and only time Spouse and I have been to Buchenwald (best remembered for the infamous Beast of Buchenwald, Ilse Koch who committed hideous atrocities on prisoners there), we found a memorial stone to the thousands of Germans who died in the years after the war at the hands of the Russians. We were there in the early evening and as we looked into the gloom of the wood, we realised we could see hundreds and hundreds of wooden crosses. Maybe some of those people deserved their fate, having committed atrocities of their own under the Nazis, but I'm sure the majority were, like my grandfather in law, decent enough people who were caught up in events they were powerless to prevent.
After two weeks in Heidelberg, it was clear that mil's relatives who were struggling as they had to have refugees living in their house, couldn't keep mil and her sister, so hearing that the York and Lancasters were in Wolfenbuttel, mil and her sister left to go there. Here was the lucky part of the story for mil, because she was able to get a job at the Officers Club as a translator, which meant she could have her sister lodging with her as her refugee. And it was here, that she finally met fil (who'd in the meantime met her dad in Gardelegen at some point). By all accounts they were difficult days as food was scarce, the family mil was staying with didn't know what had happened to the father of the family as he was a POW and there wasn't much money. But judging by the photos, taken when mil and fil went with friends on skiing trips to the Harz mountains, they were happy days too. I'm not quite sure at which point they decided to get married, but by then mil's father was in Buchenwald, and she had to make a huge decision about coming to England. Apparently she asked an uncle, who'd lived in England prewar what he thought. Well, he said, pondering her dilemma for a moment, England is very like Germany. There are lots of trees. I think you'll like it. A slightly spurious basis, perhaps, on which to leave your homeland, but given the choices she faced staying, I think it probably wasn't such a hard decision.
Fil by now had got back to England, and he and another friend were trying to get mil and the friend's fiancee over. Fil's friend had managed to charter a plane at vast expense, but fil was able to wangle them a passage on a boat at a much cheaper price. His friend was so grateful he promised to buy fil a drink every time he came to London, which he did pretty much until he died.
When they arrived off the boat at Hull, fil and his friend were there to greet them, as were several photographers, and fil told them to keep schtumm and pretend they weren't German. When they got on the train to London, they had a carriage to themselves, and somehow had found a record player. So they danced all the way to London, which I think is dead romantic!
Eventually, mil's sister was able to join her in England, but her mother remained in Gardelegen, building a house which she and mil's father lived in when he returned. He did manage to come over once on a false passport, and was tickled pink to go to Windsor Great Park and stand next to George VI, when he was in the country illegally. Mil and fil also went over to Germany a couple of times, with Spouse's two brothers and fil's parents. Spouse's granny told me the story of how they went to a clearing in the woods, from where they could see a watchtower with a sentry, which scared her rigid. As they waited in the clearing, people started arriving with food stalls and the like. Eventually they spotted movement in the woods. All the people from East Germany were dressed as peasants, sweeping the fields, and they swept their way into the woods where they then made their way to the clearing and found their families. I'm not sure how long they spent together before they then had to go home, but that was the only physical contact mil had with her parents for many many years. And when her father died in 1958, she was unable to go the funeral. Imagine that. Not being able to go to your dad's funeral because there's a danger that the State won't let you go again, never mind that you have become a British citizen and have a family back home.
Mil's mother stayed on in Gardelegen, having developed some kind of motor neurone disease which mil always puts down to the stress. Eventually she became so decrepit the East Germans didn't want her, so mil had to go out to get her back to the West. Even this was fraught with difficulty. Newly pregnant with Spouse, she spent three months in Germany, bribing the German guards with cigarettes every time she crossed the border. She wasn't certain of success till the very last minute, and all the time was on a knife edge thinking if she said or did the wrong thing she might end up being detained.
Because here's another thing, which from my cosy safe pov, has always seemed unimaginable to me. People mil knew did disappear. One family she knew were imprisoned for a year, just for unwittingly posting a letter from a dissident; the sister of one of her closest friends escaped from Gardelegen in a train full of wood, hidden in a fake compartment underneath. She was one of the last people to get out this way, as the next poor unfortunates who tried it were caught. While she was escaping her brother and his family were being closely questioned by the Stasi, and had to pretend they hadn't seen her for days. By all accounts, though people lived and worked, and got on with their lives in East Germany it was a tense and unnerving place to be. The tragedy of the division in families never more poignantly apparent then visiting towns which were literally split in two by the border. One we saw, near Wolfsburg where we usually stay was 30km from the nearest border crossing. So in order to visit family members you had to not only apply for a permit but take a round trip of 60km just for the privilege. It is staggering to think how difficult that must have been.
When in 1989 we first started to get wind that things were changing in Germany, mil I don't think wanted to dare think about it. She'd left her home town in 1945 and only been back that one time to get her mother. We started to hear rumours of people escaping via Hungary - in fact the daughter of one her friends did exactly that. Then we heard that there were marches, in Leipzig and Dresden, and eventually even the Alexanderplatz in Berlin - we waited with bated breath, worried that we might be about to witness another Tiananmen Square. But it never happened. So today twenty years ago, mil finally heard the news she'd waited most of her life for, that she was free at last to go home.
On New Year's Eve 1989, she rang us up rather tipsy, having watched the people of Berlin climbing on the Wall and tearing it down. In Germany traditionally people literally jump into the New Year. Mil always celebrates twice, first at eleven for Germany, then at twelve for England. Fil had fallen asleep leaving her to celebrate alone. We were rather alarmed when we discovered she'd been jumping off the sofa, not once, but twice, but somehow it seemed appropriate...
Thursday, November 05, 2009
Last Christmas is out now and available in: Smiths, Waterstones (hurrah, I'm on their 3 for 2 table!), Tescos, Asdas and via Amazon.
As ever am hugely grateful to the Wunderkinder team at Avon who have pulled out all the stops for me this time.
You may find me splurging on about all things Christmas related all over the web, as I have a very hardworking pr person getting me all manner of features (waves thank you at Tory!)
I've done an interview with Femail First here and written a piece about coping with large family gatherings here. Hoping I don't sound too bossy and like my character's alter ego, The Happy Homemaker, who is a purely ironic creation...
If I get myself organised I may be tweeting recipes via my website which is under reconstruction. But that depends on the gremlins that are currently screwing up
my life giving me a break. Which they don't seem quite willing to do right now (sigh).
I'd really like to say a big thank you to all the people who've bought/read the book so far, because I've been getting some really positive feedback which for an author makes the job hugely worthwile. And like every writer I am a complete neurotic freak at heart, so it's nice to hear that people like my scribbles!
And here are those lovely boys from Wham! to get you all in the mood...
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Trying to find my happy place. This hasn't been quite as possible as I'd like it to be because life does keep conspiring against me. Today's part of the conspiracy was to hear the sad news that a much beloved cousin on my mother's side had died. I don't normally go this personal here, but I think she deserves a shout out for being an utterly brilliant human being.
My cousin Angela was like the best of all fun aunties to have (though she wasn't an auntie and we never called her one). She came at Christmas and birthdays providing exciting presents the likes of which we never got anywhere else (being one of eight teaches you to be grateful for what you get quite frankly). She came on holidays with us and was a source of fun and joy, usually conspiring with us the kids against the grown ups. I think everyone deserves at least one adult like that in their lives in childhood.
But the best thing about her was that she had the coolest job of anyone I never knew. Which you can read all about here, namely to find or provide sound effects for films. When I was 12 years old Star Wars came out. Angela had not only worked on the sound effects but get this, she knew Mark Hamill ,who was my pinup then (much prefer Harrison now). Apparently she'd met him once in the bar at Elstree or Pinewood with I think it was an alligator on his lap. Quite why I don't know, but that seemed dead exciting to me at the time. As our Christmas treat that year she took the whole family (all ten of us, immensely generous!) to see Star Wars at the Empire Leicester Square. I'll never forget the impact of those space ships going over my head. Seems so tame now but it was genuinely groundbreaking at the time, and we got to see it before anyone else at school. For a glorious week in January 1978, I was actually cool at school thanks to Angela. Later on she did the same for Superman, which she also took us to see. She also did the soundtrack for The Omen, allegedly recording one sound in the local catholic church which then had to be exorcised. At my sister's wedding she made all the female guests jealous by mentioning she just happened to have met Mel Gibson (this was when he was still a sex symbol and not weird.)
In her private life, though she never married, she spent years involved in local drama projects - much to her elderly mother's (my great Aunt Madge, another awesome character) disgust. "Don't know what she sees in all that drama," Auntie Madge used to sniff, even though it was Angela's raison d'etre. They were devoted to each other, but in the way two women living alone often do, spent most of the time sniping at one another, so it was easy to miss the deep love between them.
When Angela needed people for sound effects, she used to arrange what she termed as "Shouts" getting lots and lots of people together to make the sound she was after. Although we frequently got invited on these occasions, as we lived in North London and she lived in Essex, to my disappointment I never actually made it to one. I'm sure knowing Angela they'd have been a right laugh.
Over recent years I hadn't seen much of her. My family commitments mean I can't often venture into Essex, where most of my mother's family live (sounds pathetic now I write it down, but there really is not time when the kids are at school and the holidays go too fast). Recently though an aunt was over from America and knowing everyone was meeting at my godmother's house I made the effort to get over to see them all. I knew Angela had been ill, and was delighted to hear from my mother that she was out of hospital and would be there. However, when I arrived it transpired that she'd been taken ill again. On the way home my older sister was planning to stop off to see her. I dithered for a minute, knowing I was needed at home, then thought, bugger it, I'm never in this part of the world, who knows what will happen. So I made the effort and went to see her. I'm so glad I did.
Angela was clearly not well, but still cracking jokes as much as ever. She laughed at the miserable old woman in the bed next door who kept saying she wanted to die, and talked longingly about getting well enough to get involved again in her beloved drama. She was delighted to see us, and remembered (as I to my shame had not) that the last time we'd met was at no 3's christening. When we left she got up and walked us to the door. I had a feeling we weren't going to meet again.
She did get out of hospital again, but was admitted last week. Yesterday she spent the afternoon laughing with her cousins (my mother and my aunts). She seemed in such good spirits my mother judged it ok to go back home. Sadly she deteriorated overnight and died at 6.30 am this morning.
I cannot mourn her passing for the fact that her quality of life was so very grim, and she isn't suffering anymore. But I am sorry the world has lost someone with such a joyous sense of fun, who enjoyed the absurdities of life to such a great extent.
I've been thinking about her all day, and the memory that has come back more then most was of a couple of nights before my wedding. She and her mum were staying down the road at a little bungalow, attached to the house of the landlady. She'd put Auntie Madge to bed and come up to us for dinner, but because of Auntie Madge she couldn't stay out late. My dad decided she couldn't go back to the bungalow empty handed so provided some alcohol (beer?) to keep her spirits up. We went clanking down the road with all the bottles, giggling like a bunch of school kids, especially when we went into the bungalow and were trying not to waken the very stern landlady. The harder we tried not to laugh the more we laughed. It was a joyous moment with the two people in my life who've taught me there is always time for giggling and being silly.
So, a sad day today, but I think, thanks to Angela, I've been reminded of the importance of laughter however grim life seems, and I've found my happy place. Or certainly one of them. I hope she has too.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
In a funny kind of way the fact that this has now happened has made me feel better. It's been a big fear, and it was all dealt with. Which isn't to say it hasn't been a stressful weekend. It has. Not least because on top of that, we had an emotionally charged social arrangement which had been making me feel like crap all week. The stress of mil's fall took the edge off that however, and I did manage to get through the evening without succumbing to the panic attack which hovered around the edges for the whole night. As Spouse needed a calming beer or two I had to do without my diazepam, and having coped allright with that I felt somewhat better the next day.
However, looking after an elderly relative on top of running a busy household isn't without its stresses, however much you want to do it. And on Sunday night mil suddenly announced she wanted to spend some time in a care home. Up until now she's always wanted to stay at home so it was a huge shock. Added to which we always wanted to be the ones to look after her, but it really isn't possible on a longterm basis. Spouse and I both hated the home that fil went to for respite care, where we felt he wasn't treated with the respect or compassion he deserved, so we were both angsting on Sunday night about the best course of action. Bil and sil looked into some local homes, and luckily there is a fantastic one on the way home from school. We went to look at it yesterday and sil and I both felt that she's going to get really good care there. The aim is to get her up and running and back to her flat, but really, if she had to stay longer, for the first time I don't feel worried about that. She'll be in a place where she will be treated with dignity and importantly there will be plenty of other people to talk to. We can come and go as we please, so I can bring the kids in after school, which will be wonderful not only for mil, but for them, because this whole thing is a bit unnerving for them all.
So for the first time in 13 years I can scrub no 2 of my panicometer. At least for the next three weeks I really won't have to worry about mil, because I know she's going to be all right. I can't tell you what a relief that is.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
So in order to help myself out of this angst ridden hole I've decided to rate my worries on the Panicometer. There are rather a lot. So I maybe some time.
1 Let me start with the children. How do I worry about the children? Let me count the ways...
a)I worry they'll be ill. They can never just have a cold, automatically (at the moment) I'm assuming it's swine flu. When they have a temperature, I still check for meningitis. In my defence I did have nos2 & 4 in hospital several times with asthma attacks when they were tiny so it has led to a lingering fear. But really. They are perfectly healthy. I am very lucky. Ergo I should stop worrying...
Panic rating 100
b) I worry about them growing up. This merits a whole post in itself. Overnight no 1 has gone from being a stay at home Peter Pan to meeting her mates down the parks. I always know where she is, but suppose she stops telling me. She's starting to meet boys. They might start drinking. I keep hearing tales of sleepovers where boys and girls share rooms. There are drugdealers in the local park... I want her to be independent, I want her to have fun, but oh boy oh boy do I want her to be safe. She thinks I'm an overprotective mother hen. She is probably right.
Panic rating 150
c) I worry about them being upset. Last term was a case in point. One by one they came to me with problems relating to school friends. I know they have to go through this stuff, but god I hate it when it happens. Can't bear to see them miserable, then I panic about how bad it is for them, when they are long over it. So should I be...
Panic rating 50.
d) currently angsting hugely about no 4 who has to have a very minor and straightforward operation on her foot. Yesterday she had to have an MRI scan. Was in much more of a state then she was during it. Her lips looked all red, and at one point I was convinced she was bleeding. Why on earth did I think an MRI scan would make her lips bleed? I really have no idea...
Panic rating 200
2 I worry about mil. Is she eating enough? Is she drinking enough? When it's hot, is she too hot? When it's cold, is she too cold? If she falls over in her flat will she be wearing her emergency phone button?(actually she has of late). Will something happen to her when I'm on the way to the school run? Will I be the one to find her ill/dying? The last is not totally unreasonable, considering I am physically nearest to her during the day, and I was first on the scene when fil died. I am also having a belated reaction to her having been very very ill last winter. But still. As the sensible casualty nurse said to me when I voiced the fear that she might die, well we all die. And it's not as if I am the only one to have to deal with this now. But you know. The panicy bit of my brain revels in this kind of stuff. So...
Mil gets a panic rating of 200+
3 I also worry about my own mum. Who is getting older. And lives a long way away. But she is pretty fit and healthy for a near octagenarian. So that's a worry that's currently ridiculous. Like so many of the things I panic about, I panic about if before it happens, then panic when it happens. It's like I punish myself twice. The joys of catholic guilt.
So Ma, you get a panic rating of 0. I don't need to worry about you yet.
4 Get this. I worry about the computer. About how much time I spend on it. How little I achieve when I can spend a whole day twittering and blogging. Oh and occasionally writing a novel. When I first came back from holidays I could barely sit at the computer without an immediate wave of panic flowing over me. This is getting better. But not gone yet.
So panic rating 50
5 I worry about the housework. Yes. Truly I do. I hate housework. I also hate an untidy house. There is always too much to do. And I never feel on top of it. And when I'm working it makes me feel guilty. And when I'm doing housework I feel guilty about not working. And when it's done the children can undo the work in a moment. And then I get cross. And then I feel guilty. And then I am anxious because the house is untidy, and I'm not in control. And ergo. I am a control freak in desperate need of a cleaner. Or a wife. That would help.
Panic rating 100
6 New born babies. I suppose that counts with children. Except I don't have any anymore. But when I did have my own, while I loved the newborn bit I simultaneously hated it. Couldn't stand the fragility of the little buggers. Just wanted them to get bigger, so they didn't seem so bleeding vulnerable. Spent the first six weeks of no 1's life in state of high anxiety, even stopping the car once because I was so convinced she'd died in the car seat (she did look rather waxy and still). Spouse got so fed up with me he accused me of wanting her to be ill - I didn't, I just was terrified she would be (see worry 1 above). And now I don't have newborn babies of my own, I am absolutely terrified of holding anyone elses's. Lord alone knows how I'll ever cope with grandchildren if I'm lucky enough to get any.
Panic rating 150
7 Dogs. This is a life long phobia entirely driven by family mythology. Before I was born we had a dog which apparently ripped my mother's best dress to shreds. I've never been able to cope with dogs, but a couple of times in late childhood I found myself on the wrong side of a barking dog, and was literally rooted to the spot. Spouse has worked much positive therapy on me over the years (he would love a dog), so I can actually bear to touch them now, and I always try to pat them in front of the kids because I don't want to pass on the fear, but really? If I could I would always walk in the opposite direction to our furry friends. And though at once stage I thought maybe we could get ourselves a pooch, the reality is I couldn't stand to be in the house alone with one as would have to be the case. So dogs. You're still near my top worry and you get a panic rating of 300.
8 Family holidays. Aagh. I used to love holidays before I had children. Then they came along and we were limited to campsites and grotty English hotels, and children being sick before, after and during our trips. When we finally ventured abroad to France, the place we stayed in shut down for September so there was nothing to do to entertain four children under the age of 6. Then we had a disastrous holiday in Spain over which a veil should be properly drawn, and two very wet camping trips. The second of which involved driving round Europe, breaking children's limbs, being burgled, and staying on the worst campsite in the world. Not surprisingly we came home early. We've also done several trips to Germany with mil and the children. Relaxing. Not. Plus on top of that I get to have all my usual worries about the children, are they ill, will they have an accident, are they about to drown in foreign country. Magic. Recipe for a stress free time. Is it any wonder I had a major panic attack the day before I went on holiday? Ironically of course, had I not been panicking so much, I would have had a really relaxing time...
Panic rating 500
9 Panicking about relationships. Oh I am champion at this. I have a strong oversensitive streak, which leads me to analyse every single conversation I ever have with people. I play back conversations in my head, worry that I have caused offence when none was intended, worry that this will affect my relationships, then inevitably it does affect my relationships. I am particularly prone to this in my online dealings. So. if I ever offend you, I never meant to. And if you think I'm overreacting to something, that's probably because I am.
Panic rating 300
10 But top dollar has to go my greatest fear of all. Fear of flying. Jeez. How I hate getting on bloody aeroplanes. If God had meant us to fly he 'd have given us wings. I didn't start off phobic about flying. In fact I used to quite like it. But then we had a trip back from Istanbul when we could see a plane flying above us which spooked me, and it's all been downhill from there. Yes, yes, yes. I know it's the safest form of transport. It just doesn't feel safe. I am just about ok if stare fixedly ahead and read my book for the duration of the flight, and thanks to the wonders of diazepam I can cope, but no, I'd rather not do it. Which is of course plain stupid. If I opt not to fly I won't ever go anywhere again. And there's a big wide world out there. Most of which I haven't seen. My fear is so stupidly irrational, I hate flying without the children, which I've done a couple of times, because it feels selfish to do something which might kill me when they're not with me. To follow this through to its logical conclusion, as a friend pointed out to me, I'd rather be in a plane crash and we'd all die, then me die and the children be safe. And of course, I could be run over by a bus tomorrow. Or have a heart attack for that matter.
Panic rating a big whopping 1000+
So there you have it. Ten of the things that worry me most. And I never even mentioned driving...
Next bit of self therapy. How to find my happy place. I sure could do with knowing exactly where it is...
Wednesday, September 09, 2009
Twenty years ago today was the day I tripped down the aisle (actually it's a very short aisle so it was a mere few steps) to marry Spouse. So I thought I'd celebrate by blogging my wedding day, which remains the most perfect day of my life. (I know technically I should include the days the children were born, but hell, there was ALOT of pain before they came out, so I'd say the moments they were born were perfect, the rest was not).
As I am also currently writing about weddings, it also seems rather appropriate to delve into the old memory banks to get me in the mood for when I get back to work in a minute...
Spouse and I met at university (this deserves a whole other post as in a few weeks time it will be 25 years since we met. Eek. I can't possibly be that old) and were among the first of our friends to get married, which I seem to remember causing mild consternation at the time. One of them even begged us not to do it - mind you fil wasn't too happy when we announced our engagement either, but then Spouse's brother had just announced his divorce so our timing wasn't the best (-:
Although I grew up in London, my parents took off to Shropshire the year before we got married, so we were blessed with being able to have a country wedding in a tiny church which I still go to when I'm visiting my mum. I'd show you a picture, but my scanner's on the blink, which means you aren't going to get any wedding pics either. Sorry about that.
However, the course to our wedding day wasn't an entirely smooth one. Is it for anyone? I doubt it somehow. For a start, dearly as I love my mother, she is an organiser extraordinaire and gets very definite ideas about things. One of which was that we should send everyone home at around 7pm. This was mainly so she could avoid us having a disco as she hates them. Given a choice I'd rather not have an argument with anyone, but we had invited people from all over the country, most of whom would be staying the night. The town my mum lives in is lovely, but there isn't a whole lot to do after dark, especially not twenty years ago. So I put my foot down and won that one. 1-0 to me.
Then two months before the wedding the woman who ran the hotel we'd booked ran away with the chef, so the business was being sold, about a week before we were due to get married. It was too late to book another venue. My poor mother was beside herself. So was I. But I was totally wrapped up in wedding mania by then and I wasn't at all sympathetic to her suggestion we got a marquee in the back garden. I don't know why, but I thought it would be a bit naff. So I remember having a very teary and fraught conversation on the phone (it's incredibly tedious organising a wedding from a distance of 200 miles I can tell you) sitting on the floor of our new home which was devoid of furniture and fittings and rather summed up the despair I was feeling at the time. My mum was adamant though. There wasn't any other choice really. 1-1.
As it happened she was completely and utterly right. We hired a local firm of caterers, my dad was able to get all the wine he wanted from the local wine merchants without paying corkage (people still talk about the wine at our wedding), and it was a lovely intimate setting on the day. Much much better then being an impersonal hotel. I'm thinking of suggesting it to my girls if they ever get married. So 2-1 to my ma really. In the end.
The second disaster to hit us was the small matter of our wedding rings. Being incredibly naive, when we got engaged, Spouse just took me into a shop in Hatton Garden, which is near where I worked at the time, we chose a ring, wandered off for half an hour while they resized it and that was that. We were so frantically busy before the wedding we'd left buying rings till the last moment. Well. Two weeks before at any rate. We had no time to pop up to Hatton Garden so we went into our local jewellers and ordered two rings. To our consternation they told us the rings would have to be sent away to be sized and would come back in two weeks time. Oh, we said weakly, that's when we're getting married. Luckily, they had an express service. The rings could be back within the week.
Only they weren't. I went in on the Saturday before the wedding. Nope. No sign of them. I then pushed off to Shropshire, leaving poor Spouse and various kind relatives to pay daily visits to the shop to no avail. By Thursday the situation was critical, so my mother suggested I tried the local jeweller, who was unable to sell us rings but helpfully offered to lend us some. I can't have you going up the aisle, naked m'dear, he said in his soft Shropshire burr, to my delight.
Needless to say, despite Spouse having a rare hissy fit in the jeweller's the day before the wedding, we still had no rings, so when he arrived ashen faced at 4pm I was able to whisk him to my new best friend and we were furnished with a pair of rings to see us through the day. Unfortunately I wasn't able to prevent the priest from blessing them, but I did stop the photographer in his tracks by announcing I was giving them back on Monday when tried to take a picture.
So rings all sorted, we were raring to go. Well, I was. As you might have noticed by now, I am a champion worrier(-: However, I tend to do my worrying months in advance. So come the big day I was serene and relaxed. Spouse on the other hand is a seats of your pants kind of person. So he never thinks about things till he has to. Hence he was in a terrible state the night before the wedding, suggesting we ran away to Gretna Green just so we didn't have to stand up in front of all those people (Spouse unlike me, who am heap big show off, doesn't relish a crowd, and the thought of making a speech made him feel physically sick). Tempting as it was, I wouldn't let him whisk me away, but we did spend a very happy evening in the local boozer with all our mates.
I'd like to say my wedding day dawned fair, but sadly it was cold and grey and cloudy. Weirdly enough though, I was so elated all day long I didn't feel the cold at all, in fact I was quite surprised when one of my aunts told me later that she'd been frozen all day.
I can't remember quite how early I woke, but I was up and out and at the hairdressers by 9am. The great thing about getting married in a small town is that everyone I spoke to knew about it. Even though my parents hadn't been there very long, they were sufficiently well known in the town for people to stop me and say, Oh you're the bride. It was a fantastic feeling that. Made me feel like a popstar. The other great thing was the town was also full of our friends and relatives so I kept bumping into people.
When I got back the house was a hive of activity. The lady who'd arranged our flowers arrived with the most gorgeous bouquet of gold and yellow roses for me, and two sprays for my grown up bridesmaids (Mad Twin and my other closest sister both gorgeous in gold) and a little posy for my lovely 5 year old niece. The flower lady was amazing, and lived in a wonderful old cottage somewhere up a Shropshire hill. She took my ideas and produced something really special (and she's just about to go in a book as a result (-:) What a happy house, she declared as she left. And it was. Both a happy house and an ecstatically happy day.
At some point I must have had a bath, as I remember being mortified to be found in my dressing gown when the best man arrived to pick up the button holes (gold of course). Then my second eldest sister pounced on me to do my nails (she's a bit like that, dead bossy), so I spent a tedious half hour waving my fingers out of the window to make them dry. I am champion at smudging nail varnish, so I really didn't want to scuff them. I can remember just being incredibly serene, despite the busyness around me.
Then my niece arrived with her mother, just as I was getting into my dress - very plain, shot silk with lace for the train, made my immensely talented mother. (She also made the cake. I think my girls will have to make do with the bride shop (-: ) You look like a princess, she said. I felt like one too. I was never one to obsess about a white wedding as a child, but without a doubt, I felt incredibly special that day. And I loved wearing my dress and veil and being the centre of attention. Told you I was a show off.
The morning had dragged, but suddenly from lunchtime onwards things seemed to speed up. My brother was despatched to Shrewsbury to pick up an aunt and uncle (long story but basically my aunt made a - we think - bigamous marriage to an American second cousin, then became very difficult. First they were coming to the wedding, then they weren't, and at the last minute, suddenly they were again.) - however he got there and they weren't there. Instead they pitched up at the house as the car arrived to take me and my dad to church.
My uncle - well actually I never really thought of him as such - was a strange looking creature. He had a turtle like head, and a rather dessicated look about him. And I was much taken with the bobbing up and down of his head as he shook my hand earnestly and said in his Californian drawl, Oh, what a beautiful bride. In the meantime my eldest sister was subtly trying to get them into her car, so they wouldn't actually arrive at the church after us.
Then I was left alone with my dad. A moment of high tension for both of us, until we both realised how nervous we were and fell about laughing instead. I had the greatest time with my dad that day. When we got the church we laughed and laughed at the hapless photographer who'd probably never had such an unhelpful subject as my dad, who simply refused to take it seriously and kept looking the wrong way and pulling silly faces. One of my favourite photographs though, is of us holding hands and looking back at the camera, with the bridesmaids framed in the background. Wer'e both laughing, a happy spontaneous moment, from a wonderful wonderful day.
We giggled some more when we got to the door of the church and didn't know what to do as someone had shut the church door. In the end we shoved it open and then walked down the aisle in a matter of seconds (it's a very small church), and then my dad slipped away and I was sitting next to Spouse. Who looked dreadful. He was white as a sheet and looked as if he was about to throw up (I learnt afterwards he'd had to have about four G&Ts to steady his nerves. But he still managed to whisper You look gorgeous, which still makes me go all gooey when I think about it.
The wedding itself was a catholic nuptial mass - a bit of an ordeal for most of our agnostic friends, but I did want a ceremony that had meaning and wasn't over quickly. For our readings we chose John 4:&-13 and Psalm 128 which my parents had at their wedding - one verse of which now seems incredibly appropriate: Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house/Your children will be like olive shoots around your table (hmm, not sure we were expecting four olive shoots back then, but we're not sorry now.) When it came to our vows, I refused point blank to honour and obey, so we opted for cherishing one another instead, which is much much nicer anyway.
After the service was over we had endless photos in the garden. I am laughing in every single one. I just couldn't stop laughing. Every time I turned around someone clicked and took a photo of me. It was like being a film star for the day. And everywhere I turned there were friends and family congratulating us. It was just brilliant.
Then it was back to the house, and Spouse and I scooted straight through to make sure we got to the reception line before any of the guests. The caterers were already in the house and so were my late arriving aunt and uncle. Spouse had never met them before, and hilariously mistook the man solemnly shaking his hand and saying What a happy day for a very enthusiastic caterer.
I can't tell you what we had to eat that day. I don't think I ate very much of it. I was on such a high. I talked and laughed, and talked some more. I don't think I even drank very much. I didn't need to. I was drunk on the day itself.
My ma in law though, did get a little squiffy - she doesn't drink alot and the champagne went right to her head. This led to her having a very tired and emotional moment, so I spent at least half an hour trying to calm her down. Where were the men in the family, you ask? Nowhere. The first of many lessons in how the Williams men will run a mile at the first sight of emotion...
Eventually mil calmed down and Spouse and I worked the room, making a point of talking to each other's families. This was somewhat more daunting for Spouse then I. My family is HUGE. Not only do I have seven siblings, but my mother has five, so there were lots of uncles and aunts to get to know. It took Spouse at least three family weddings to feel comfortable with them all.
He was still stressing about his speech. Me being more stridently feminist in those days didn't see why the men got to do all the talking. So I made a speech too. I giggled my way through most of it, so it probably wasn't my finest hour, and the boys who didn't want to speak at all couldn't understand why I did, but I really didn't see why I shouldn't be allowed to get a word in on my special day. Both my dad and Spouse made speeches which were short and to the point, and the best man did a sterling job of staying the right side of good taste, so after that everyone could relax a bit, till it was time for the disco.
By way of making up for the fact that we hadn't been able to use the hotel, the ex owner, managed to wangle it so we could use the banqueting room attached to it for the evening. So we did, and had the disco there. My mother, having not got her way on the disco, managed to create a compromise and got us all doing Scottish country dancing to get the ball rolling. 3-1 to my mother I think. As fil was keen on this too, they both took it rather seriously. However by the time we got to it, most of our guests had imbibed far too much of my father's incredibly generous allocation of wine, including Mad Twin who was doing the calling. Factoring in also that our generation predates Strictly Come Dancing, not a one of us had a clue what we were doing. So the result was a riotous disaster. But what the hell. It just made me laugh all the more.
The evening passed far too quickly and by midnight we were supposed to have left. But the best man had organised a special surprise for us in the shape of a rolls royce which was driving round the Shropshire countryside for most of the evening so was rather late reaching us. We ended up being sent out after a round of congratulations. Spouse by now was well past the point of rational thought. As we sped off down the country lanes to the hotel where we staying the night, he blinked around him, and said, Gosh, this is a jolly big black cab. Probably the only time he's ever likely to go in a roller. And to this day he doesn't remember a thing...
Tuesday, September 01, 2009
I used to be a bit cynical about psychological issues - I always liked that joke in Crocodile Dundee, when Mick can't get his head round why everyone in the States is in therapy - where he comes from, if you have a problem, you tell Wally, he tells everyone, no more problem. I thought that for a lot of people going to therapy was a form of self indulgence, and it was certainly not something I would have considered.
That all changed eleven years ago, when a series of lifechanging events, some good, some not so good sent me spiralling out of control, and I realised I was suffering from a mild form of depression. I had never sought help after my father died, but my GP suggested bereavement counselling might help. I went for six weeks, found it every bit as excruciating as I'd expected, but did realise that I had been knocked off kilter by events, and that I would bounce back, which I duly did.
Five years ago, I found myself at my wit's end, feeling overwhelmed with the combined responsiblities of looking after the children, and mil. I took myself off to the doc again, and he prescribed anti depressants. I did take them for a short period, but on that occasion, the act of seeking help, was almost enough, and I found that in time I didn't need them.
I don't think I'm suffering from depression now, but I am feeling the effects of long term stress. I don't wish to sound like an aggrieved martyr or anything (because I don't view it like that), but Spouse and I are unusual among our peers in very soon after we became parents, we took on some of the responsibility of his parents, when my fil had a stroke. We had an eight month old baby, fil was in hospital for three months, and when he came out it was clear that they couldn't manage in their house. Fortunately we were able to find a flat up the road from us, which has been a great boon, and meant we have been able to be on hand and look after them both originally and mil now. We haven't been alone in this as Spouse's bil and sil are luckily also on hand, but as I'm the one at home, I do tend to do a lot of the day to day stuff. All of this, coupled with looking after four children has been at times quite stressful, particularly this year when mil has been very ill. (On the plus side, the children have seen a lot of their grandparents, and I know fil took huge pleasure from that, and mil still does, so it ain't all bad.) It is no wonder, though, that my body has now apparently said enough is enough.
When I came back from Menorca and saw my GP, I was so relieved that I wasn't about to instantly cark it from a massive coronary, I felt much better. I had some trusty propanalol (beta blockers) to take in case of adrenalin surges, I knew exercising, of which I do a reasonable amount, helped, and most of all I knew what was happening to me, which meant I could regain some kind of control of the situation. Wrong.
As it turns out the last three weeks have been a hideous hideous experience in terms of all my many many anxieties about life, some real, some imagined have exploded in my head and left me in a ridiculously heightened state of anxiety about absolutely everything.
Viz. We had a weekend with my family& some friends visiting the Globe to see Romeo & Juliet a couple of weeks back. Given that the Globe is my favourite place in London now alongside the Tower of London and I have been desperate to see a show there for ages, this should have been a great day out. And it was. For everyone else. For me, though I enjoyed it on one level, on another level there was an undercurrent of worry that ran like a hidden stream through my whole day, to the point at which I was talking about my writing to someone - something which absolutely does NOT make me anxious, and even that set me off.
The next day lots of family came to lunch. It was a beautiful sunny day. The kids had a blast in the pool and garden. We sat soaking up the sun in a relaxed and easy manner. I was thrilled to be with my siblings whom I don't see nearly enough of. And yet, that too was marred by the undercurrent of worry which persistently refused to go away.
The next week wasn't too bad. I had moments of anxiety, but as I wasn't doing a great deal, and not straying too far from home, it all felt manageable. So much so that on my follow up visit to the GP I felt emboldened to say that I felt my anxiety levels on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the worst, were at about 4. Which only goes to show how wrong you can be. On the Saturday, we did have a lovely family day out - one of the best of the whole holiday. We went for a long tramp across the downs, and ended up kite flying. Aha! I thought, I have found my happy place (a suggestion of my twin was to find my happy place and try and go there when the anxiety gets too much), and I have vanquished my undercurrent deep underground.
But the following day the undercurrent burst forth in a veritable flood. We went to visit Brooklands for the day, and I felt so bad I was reduced to surreptitiously blowing into a paper bag in the car hoping that the kids wouldn't notice. I had bargained without eagle eyed no 2 however. I tried to fob her off with a, there's nothing wrong with me (yeah, right) kind of conversation, but realising it panics her more not to know what's happening I've given her an edited version. Thank God for Friends. She knows all about panic attacks because Janis had one once apparently...
Last week then went from bad to worse. I was waking early overcome with crippling feelings of anxiety, which rode my body in waves. The days were spent staving off the anxiety, and trying to ignore the hammering in my chest, the tightness in my throat, and the prickling in my arms.
In desperation I turned to a relaxation tape my brother had kindly sent. Only to discover that when in the grip of intense paranoia about the workings of your body, you do not need to get taken to such a deep place of relaxation that all you can hear is the beating of your heart. I must be the only person in the world who feels more anxious after they hear a relaxation tape then before...
By Thursday I was at my wit's end. We were going away for the weekend, the whole thing was beginning to feel really debiliatating, and I didn't know how I was going to get through each day. So I rang my GP, who decided that I needed some low level (and non addictive antedepressants) to help me regain my balance. Producing too much adrenalin (if I've understood this right) creates a chemical imbalance, and depletes your cerontonin levels, which need some help to get restored.
Now. A few years ago, like I say, I'd have said no way to drugs of any description. Surely, I thought you can pull yourself out of things by willpower. People who succumb to anxious feelings are just giving in. However, now it's happening to me, I realise this just isn't the case at all. I can no more control my anxious feelings then I can fly to the moon. And what's worse is they're with me every minute of every day. Sometimes they come more to the forefront, at which point I am in hell, and sometimes they subside, but I'm conscious they are still there, ready to bite me on the bum when I'm not looking. I just can't function like that. And I can't afford to take weeks off to recover, because who'll look after the kids if I don't? I am fortunate enough that I can ask for help (something I am very bad at) from a whole group of supportive friends, but can't do that on a permanent basis. So I need something to get me through. And if that's a mother's little helper, then so be it. ANYTHING to stop feeling the way I have been for the last six weeks.
Unfortunately, the antedepressants haven't kicked in yet, so while we managed to have a nice time away, I spent some part of every night awake, drinking hot chocolate, and breathing into my wretched paper bag (I'm not even sure that works very well for me.) to try and keep my feelings at bay. Last night, however was off the scale. So it was back to the doc's this morning. He tells me it will take time, and the drugs haven't kicked in yet. But clearly the propnalol aren't working, so as a temporary measure I'm back on diazepan just to calm me down enough till the other drugs kick in.
Like I said, I'd never have gone for this option in the past, but I have realised being on the other side of this that the view is somewhat different from here, and nothing is as straightforward about it as I might have once thought. It's been an educative lesson in discovering that even though I have a happy life, and am blessed with a wonderful husband, beautiful children and good friends, I am not immune to things going wrong. It's difficult to accept you're ill when it feels like it's all in your head. But I am ill. And I will get better. I just need a little time...
Monday, August 24, 2009
... Cala Blanca where we stayed was really pretty. When we arrived I had a raging temperature which I couldn't get down till the evening, when a helpful wind blew up and my last dose of paracetomol finally did the trick. So we went for a walk and discovered we were five minutes from the beach, where the sea lapped the shore gently, the reflected light from the beachside cafes and restaurants glittered in the water, and we encountered two riders, which seemed impossibly romantic. It was the first moment of the holiday when I relaxed and was glad to have made the effort to come.
It took me several days to dare to swim though, which was a shame as the water was fantastically clear, and when I did get in, I realised brilliant for snorkelling. Given that I am quite a strong swimmer, and the sea was dead calm, it was frustrating not to do it, but I was so spooked by the whole you may have a heart murmur thing, I was just a tad terrified of getting too far out and then having a problem swimming back. Luckily I realised after a bit, that even where we could swim beyond the buoys, it was a relative steal to get to the rocks, if I did have a problem, so I got over that one in the end, and thank goodness I did, as I think it was some of the best sea swimming I've ever done. The great thing is now that, finally, the years and years I've put in poolside dragging the sprogs to swimming lessons have paid off. No 1 can swim as far as Spouse and I now, and no 2 nearly as far. No 3 was a bit spooked by pre holiday reports of jellyfish, but when we did persuade her in, she rewarded both herself and us by swimming further then she imagined. No 4, though, was the relevation. This time last year she could barely swim at all. And then she was put in the next swimming class which involved going in the deep end and I had a term stressing about her possible drowning in front of me, but suddenly she was swimming like a fish. And she too swam further in the sea then she thought she could. We took a pedalo out one day and all of them being wusses apart from no 1 meant she and Spouse went on on their own, leaving the rest of us to swim for shore. I was certain no 4 would need to hold onto me most of the way, but to our mutual amazement she swam all the way back. Result. It may have cost me a fortune, but swimming lessons may well have been the best investment I've made in my children...
The other great thing about this holiday was, that this time around in Menorca, we had a car. When we went two years ago we didn't, and as a result Spouse and I ended up a bit stir crazy from spending our time between the pool and the beach. This time around we got to explore the island a bit more, and realised just what a lovely and unspoilt place it is.
Our first trip was to La Mola, a massive fort at the entrance of Mahon harbour, which we'd wanted to go to last time but couldn't manage without a car. This is the sort of trip that eventually has the kids moaning about their boring parents' obsession with castles, which is what happened this time too (my suggestion to no 2 that having visited so many castles would stand her in good stead when she met a castle loving boy was met with a withering, what if he doesn't like castles? response), but I think they enjoyed exploring the myriad of tunnels underneath.
Other then La Mola, we also visited Ciutadella which is Menorca's second town, and very pretty. The children were less then impressed to be taken to a bronze age museum though. As it happens, so were we. Despite the ridiculous security arrangements (we had to divest ourselves of all hats, bags, moneybelts, cameras etc), there was very little to see, and all of it was in glass cases anyway. I had been most excited about seeing some trepanned skulls (about a million years ago, when I was studying history O Level we did a course on the history of medicine and I've always been fascinated by trepanning since), but they turned out to be a damp squib as the holes had all healed up and could have easily just been dents and nothing to do with trepanning, I mean, how does anyone actually know, huh? Aside from the skulls, a few Roman coins, jewellery and a stone sarcophagus, there wasn't er, anything else to see, so we swiftly departed to find somewhere for four very grumpy children to eat, before heading back home to the villa and pool.
The villa this time around was fantastic. Spouse and I had a balcony off our bedroom - mind you we tried sunbathing one day and it was far too hot, so we didn'tg et as much use out of it as we might, the kitchen was actually a decent size to cook in (not that I did much of that for the first week), and the pool was lovely. The only downside was that the fabric of the buiding seemed to house the biggest ant's nest in the world. They started off in the kids' bathroom and no 4's bed. After dispatching them with the local Fuckoff Scary Creatures spray called Zum, they then pitched up marching through the big one's room. Spouse sprayed some Zum outside the room, which had the effect of thousands of the little buggers pouring through the plug sockets. Having despatched with them there, the little buggers set off on an herculean climbing exhibition and managed to make it all the way to our balcony, across it, and into our bedroom before Spouse went to war with them there too. By the end of the holiday (remarkably) they'd discovered the kitchen, where they seemed to take a peculiarly masochistic pleasure in finding refuge in the kettle.
Ants weren't our only holiday persecutors. The people in the villa next door were Menorcan and therefore kept erratic hours. Their social life seemed to consist of coming home at midnight, then starting to eat, swim and do the sorts of things we boring English people do at around 8pm, particularly when we have small babies in tow. They never seemed to move until 5pm. I swear they were vampires.
What with our noisy neighbours and my ridiculously heightened sense of anxiety, I didn't sleep terribly well, so I am immensely grateful for Boris Johnson's Have I Got Views For You and Bremner, Bird and Fortune's You Are Here for cheering me up in the middle of the night. Insomniacs worldwide, I'd recommend both books, and also Dawn French's fantastic autobiography, Dear Fatty, for much cheering of the spirits in the stilly watches of the night.
The lack of sleep and noisy neighbours didn't really cause that much problem though, as the joy of holidays of course is that you can have forty winks on the beach. And the joy of Menorca with a car, is that you can enjoy forty winks, and sunbathing and swimming on such a plethora of gorgeous beaches you start taking them all for granted after a bit. The beach all the holiday reps tell you about is Cala Galdatana which featured in the Bounty advert. And it is very pretty. But rather full of sunbeds. We preferred the beach we were able to stroll to from there (it was a hot thirsty walk mind), but our absolute favourite was one called Cala Turqueta. As it's name suggests it had the most beautiful turquoise sea, I've ever seen. But it was also really unspoilt, as you have to walk to it from a car park, and there isn't even a cafe when you get there. It did get frantically busy as we arrived, as three boatloads of tourists were despatched to have their lunch, but once they'd gone it felt quite empty again, and the swimming was absolutely fabulous.
All in all, I'd recommend Menorca, particularly for anyone with children. Had I been well, we'd have had our best holiday in thirteen years. As it was, considering everything it wasn't half bad. If I can only get my head round my stupid flying phobia, I'd even be prepared to go again. Bring on the pethadine...
Thursday, August 13, 2009
As I possibly mentioned in the blog post I wrote before I went silent for a fortnight, the end of term was just a tad manic, with two children leaving two schools, which seemed to involve me going into said schools on a near daily basis for yet another Leaver's Event (it got the point where we were all saying, What, haven't they left, yet?). All of which left me rather wrung out emotionally as well as having the detrimental stress factor of making sure I didn't progress at all with any work that I am actually meant to be doing.
Eventually though, term ended, the horror was over, I was finally (tearfully) done with infant school forever, no 2 was finally (tearfully) done with junior school forever and I suddenly realised I had two days to prepare for our holiday. Oh shit.
I can't quite think now what made me plan our summer holidays straight after term broke up, as I know from bitter experience this is about the most stressful way possible of doing it, but I think it was something to do with the prices being a bit cheaper the last week in July (shakes her fist at greedy holiday companies who screw responsible parents who don't take their kids out of school). Anyway. I wouldn't recommend it, frankly. I needed at least a week to come down from the end of term shenanigans, and I didn't get it, which was probably a hugely contributory factor in what followed...
We were going to Menorca, where we had a fabulous holiday a couple of years ago, and I was hoping for a repeat to make up for the many many disastrous family holidays we've had which usually involve rain (every time we go on holiday in England)/children being ill (pretty much every holiday till no2 was about 7)/crap accommodation (last year) etc etc.
The downside of going to Menorca means of course, that I have to fly. I may or may not have mentioned I am a) in general a big wuss and b) specifically a huge wuss about flights. Two years ago I ended up in hysterics on the flight back, and have since been prescribed diazepan to get me through it.
I was clearly thinking about it alot, as two nights before I sat up drinking far too late with a very good friend and was apparently wittering on about flying rather a bit. I got up the next morning feeling pretty hungover. More fool me. A self inflicted wound, as my fil used to say. I then proceeded to race around the house, packing, tidying etc and (to the children's disbelief) forgot to eat anything. It was quite late when I took a break from housetidying and decided I needed to pay some bills and do some last minute shopping. As it was late, I took the car, and decided we'd have a Macdonald's before attempting chores. Big big mistake.
Now I am not really all that partial to Macdonald's (can I say that without being sued?), which are always better in anticipation then in reality, but I was hungry, and so I had a big Mac. Within ten minutes of eating it, I was feeling very very peculiar. My heart was pounding so hard in my chest, I thought it was going to explode, I felt a strange bubbling feeling in my central thorax, and I felt so dizzy I was sure I was going to pass out. Needless to say I didn't really wish the children to see this, so for ten minutes tried to pretend all was well. After which it was clear that all was not at all well, and no 2 asked if I was feeling allright. Feeling a bit of a div, and thinking, well I am surely being punished for my overindulgence with the mother of all hangovers, I asked her to get me some water. I clearly wasn't going anywhere for a bit, so sent no 1 off to buy some shoes, while I waited to feel better. Another fifteen minutes elapsed and I really felt no better. Shall I call Dad? suggested no 2. Now, given my husband's profession, this is always a hard call to make. Is this situation serious enough to warrant yanking him away from his patients (who won't be grateful) on the day before he goes on holiday? Deciding it wasn't, and also deciding that calling an ambulance wasn't the best of ideas with four kids in tow and a car stuck in the car park, I settled on calling the aforementioned good friend, who arrived twenty minutes later with her brother, who not only nobly drove the car for me, but also took the kids home and looked after them, while we went to casualty.
By now my lips had gone numb, my face was weirdly flushed and I was getting a strange prickling sensation in my arms along with feeling sick as a parrot and dizzy. I felt so awful I'd convinced myself I was having a heart attack. Never mind that I'm only 44, fortunately suffer rude health the majority of the time, and am pretty fit, my stupid overactive imagination decided that Heart Attack was what was happening so my body mimicked what I thought were the symptoms. Wiser readers then me will have probably spotted that actually I was suffering from a panic attack brought about by acute stress.
Unfortunately, this was not what was diagnosed at the hospital, where they took one look at my wildly high blood pressure (I've never had high blood pressure before, but hey, there's always a first time) and racing pulse, and got me through the triage bit to the A&E nurse quicker then you can say waiting time. I have to admit, the NHS for all its faults is admirably swift when they're worried about you, but when you are in the grip of a panic attack this is not terribly reassuring. Luckily the casualty nurse was fantastic, and was brilliant at calming me down, suggesting an ECG when he realised I had a ridiculously overanxious preoccupation with my heart (amazing thing the mind, up until three weeks ago I'd have said that the fact my dad died of heart failure had no effect on me whatsoever (-:), and telling me that yes, I would be going on my holidays the next day.
The ECG was fine, and by now they'd hooked me up to a saline drip as they'd decided I was dehydrated, so I started to feel a bit better. My friend had been popping in and out to give home situation updates, so I also knew Spouse was on his way home and the kids were all having a nice time. I could feel my pulse rate starting to slow down, and the sickness was abating. Until...
Oh dear god. The casualty doctor, I'm sure he meant very well. I'm also sure he was covering all angles and I'm grateful to him for checking me out to the nth decree. But what I didn't need to hear the day before I was due to fly off on holiday, when my blood pressure was way too high and I was feeling the most neurotic I've ever felt in my life was that he could apparently detect a heart murmur, which needs investigation and quite possibly might need an operation. He also helpfully gave me this information at a point when I was on my own, and was clearly unprepared for my hysterical reaction. Well, wouldn't you have been? But bless him, Dr Death's bedside manner wasn't the best. He actually said to me, Do you want the good news or the bad news? He actually said that. Then told me that the bad news was that I had poorly painted toe nails (-:
Apparently having a dodgy heartbeat isn't anything to worry about though, no really. It's probably been there forever, you are free to go on your holidays and fly in a plane which will render any previous panic attack a mere blip as your blood pressure will probably lift you through the roof...
By the time Spouse came to pick us up, I was a gibbering wreck, and remained so for most of the night before we went, when I lay in bed panicking about going on holiday, then panicking about not going and ruining it for everyone else.
In the end, feeling a tad better when we got up, I dosed myself up on diazepan and off we set. Remarkably, apart from a flurry of nerves as we pulled up at Gatwick, I did manage to cope with the flight fine (diazepan is a wonderdrug, but I'm beginning to think I probably need pethadine which got me through all my labours fine and dandy. I'm a complete space cadet on pethadine, and could probably be happy as larry if I flew under its influence). However, when we got the other end, it suddenly dawned on me I was in a foreign country, with a possible blood pressure problem, a possible dodgy hearbeat, and no idea what the local health facilities were like. My mood was not enhanced by the rep from the holiday company looking at me and asking me nervously if I was fit to travel. It's a bit late for that now, I thought...
As it transpired, by the end of the first day I was feeling a little better, but my guts weren't, and after a few days I ended up at the chemist's convinced I had gastritis. By now I was on the detox to end all detoxes, having a diet which mainly consisted of bread and water with the occasional camomile tea for luck. Spouse had his work cut out trying to look after everyone else, cook meals and manage to relax himself, but we were sort of rubbing along fine, until the night we went out to a restaurant and I had a repeat of my McDonald's experience, except this one involved hyperventilation too. Although, I had no idea that I was hyperventilating at all till Spouse said, stop breathing so fast. Luckily for me, he is much much better then I would have been given the situation the other way round, and he talked me down by making me breathe slowly and deeply till eventually both breathing and pulse calmed down. By now, I was all for heading to the hospital, but it was pretty late, the hospital was the other side of the island, and Spouse had correctly identified that I was just stressing myself up about everything.
For the second week of the holiday, I did actually manage to feel better. So finally I dared to swim (was a bit worried about passing out in the water), did lots of snorkelling, wrote masses of my new book (by hand in a notebook, novel experience!), and generally started to relax. It all went tits up of course the day we left, when all the same old panicky feelings returned, my insides started puddling upwards, my heartbeat went mental and I was frantically stuffing diazepan down my neck as we got to the airport in a vain attempt to calm down. Eventually the diazepan did work, but I was left with a feeling of exhaustion over the weekend, a tightness in my chest, and huge acid heartburn. I can't recall ever feeling iller in my whole life. And coming back to a letter from the cardiac clinic wasn't exactly conducive to relaxation either...
Luckily for me, I have an absolutely fantastic GP. Who as soon as I saw him on Monday said, You are perfectly fine. Your pulse is racing a bit, but you are just suffering from stress. There is NOTHING wrong with your heart. Which is all I needed to hear.
I hadn't realised that acid builds up in your stomach as a result of adrenaline rushes caused by panic attacks. Neither had I realised the weird prickling I was feeling in my arms was due to an imbalance of my bodily ph as a result of hyperventilating. This is why you need to blow into a paperbag - the CO2 you lose as you hyperventilate is then breathed back in restoring the correct ph balance. I tried it last night at 3am and it works.
I'm sure I'm not quite out of the woods yet, after all stress builds up over a period of time, but I cannot tell you the relief in discovering that I am not likely to drop dead of a heart attack tomorrow which was my biggest worry.
As a result of all this, I have had a bit of a life evaluating moment, and realised to my eternal shame, that I don't really enjoy my children as much as I should. Lying in my sickbed listening to them having fun in the pool was one of the weirdest feelings I've ever had. Despite how crappy I felt, I was so pleased they were having a good time, and it was worth the stress for that alone.
The other bonus is that I have in fact kickstarted the diet my friend and I were discussing, and have proved to myself I can live without alcohol (I was beginning to worry about that one). But you know, what I said about being careful what you wish for? Despite my clothes being a bit looser, I still don't appear to have lost any weight. Not a jot. Which strikes me as really, really unfair...
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
PS I wouldn't recommend being ill abroad. I really, really wouldn't.
Monday, July 20, 2009
When no 1 started there, no 4 wasn't even thought of, so it does feel quite emotional saying goodbye. My early years at the school are a blur of fraughtness, double buggies, assemblies with babies on laps and toddlers on the floor and a generally bad tempered mindset. No 1 had a pretty disastrous start as her teacher went off on permanent sick leave halfway through the year (was it something she said?) and they had a host of supply teachers. At the time I wasn't much impressed with the way the school dealt with the situation and the lack of communication which was then forthcoming. For a long time, I wasn't all that impressed with the school fullstop but since no4 got there, it's been steadily on the up, and she has had a great run of it. Particularly this year, when she's had a really enthusiastic teacher, who together with the other Year 2 teacher has organised a great night walk on the common, a fabulous school trip which included pond dipping (luckily the lively boys in my group didn't get dipped), two brilliant school shows, and last Friday a Punch & Judy show (which I had to mainly miss as no 1 had her piano exam at the same time).
Hilariously, though no 4 is the noisiest of my children, the school keep telling me she is quiet, well behaved and looks after everyone else. So for those reasons, today, she was awarded a certificate for the girl in the class who had made the most impact, an honour never before given to one of my children. I had been prepared to blub at hearing One More Step Along the World I Go (I have NO idea how teachers can manage ever to get through that song in one piece), but I utterly disgraced myself for no 4's moment of glory instead.
The thing is, I am an inconsistent old cow. When nos 1&2 were in infants, especially, the daily grind was so bloody hard, I couldn't wait for it all to be over. And yet, now I'm finally here, of course I don't want it to end. Greedily, I want to keep hold of those fleeting moments of their childhood, as they run through my hands like so many particles of sand. Where, oh where have my babies gone? And why didn't I enjoy them more, while I had the time?
Like I said. Completely inconsistent.
If that's not bad enough, tomorrow I have to go through it all again for no 2. Who, having been totally sanguine about going on to secondary school, has spent the last year having a succession of "Year 6" moments, and is highly likely to lose the plot tomorrow, just as her big sister did two years ago. And to make it worse for her mother, I met two of her contemporaries in utero, in ante natal classes eleven years ago. No more babies, indeed...
Best take a big pack of hankies, I think...
Friday, July 17, 2009
Last night we went here to see them:
(The Saturdays, in case you didn't know). Alesha Dixon was also on after them.
Our plan was to be sneaky as only locals can be, and find a spot on the downs where we could hear the concert for free. (We did have a great evening three years ago watching Texas from the grandstand but at £22/a ticket it's a bit pricey for 6).
There have been other bands we could have seen: Status Quo on 4 July (Status, Who? said the offspring), and Bjorn Again last week. But we've been busy, and tired, and the kids only really wanted to see the Saturdays, so off we went at 8.30 last night, hoping for a Fun Family Outing...
Weather looks a bit ominous, I said as we piled into the car. Hmm... Five minutes later the heavens opened, and we arrived on the downs to a full scale thunderstorm, complete with forked lightning and everything. Of course, like eejits we were totally unprepared (in our defence it had been so hot earlier), and only had one umbrella between us. Do you think this is sensible? Spouse asked worriedly as the lightning seemed to be getting closer. Possibly not, was the response, though I did point out that the Grandstand is much higher then we were, so chances of getting struck perhaps lessened...
After five minutes trudging through the rain, we found ourselves in the tunnel which is the only crossing point of the racecourse when a race is on. This, it turned out was a very very bad move as hordes of hysterical teens were crowding the entrance, it was pitch black, and we got stuck trying to get out the other side. All sorts of horrible images were going through my mind, but luckily we emerged unscathed on the other side. Memo to self, never do that again in a rainstorm...
We then walked round to the finish line of the racecourse. By now we were all soaked through and freezing cold. Spouse was all for going home, but the two big ones wouldn't hear of it. So we geed up the little ones, and managed to keep them entertained long enough to witness the end of the last race of the evening. Despite having no clue as to who was running, or who won, it was till dead exciting to see the finish. We've watched the start of the Derby before now, but never watched the end of a race, and it was fab.
By now no3 had had enough and definitely wanted to go home, but we managed to persuade her to stay on long enough to watch the first song. I had thought maybe once the concert started the little ones would find it fun enough to forget their woes, but as soon as Spouse suggested going back to the car, they accepted with alacricity. So that left me, the two big ones, and an umbrella with a metal spike on it, which despite the height of the grandstand, was rather alarming as the lightning storm seemed to get ever nearer. The whole sky was lighting up at points, and before too long the rain was coming down in sheets again.
Having twisted my arm to listen to two more songs (which mainly consisted of covers, bo-o-oring), even the kids decided it was time to go. Luckily we were able to cross the racecourse without heading for the tunnel, but blimey. I didn't know it was possible to get wet in such a short time. Or how scary a five minute walk can be. Apart from the threat of lightning strikes, we also had poor visibility, cars coming at as from all directions and huge potential for skidding. In fact, when we got back in the car, and headed for home, Spouse nearly had sideon collision with an idiot who tried to cut across him as we came around a roundabout.
Luckily we got home in one piece, soaking wet, but perfectly fine. As (according to Spouse) the Officially Most Risk Averse Person in the World, I can do a fine line in worrying about the most risk free activities. But even I never imagined, how dangerous a trip to the downs could be...